Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Look! It's a Return of the Jedi bikini-clad slave-Leia Lego keychain!

(There was a $500 Millennium Falcon Lego set that I wanted, but I settled for the Indiana Jones Lego keychain for a buck.)

Greetings from Legoland, California! It was not closed and it did not rain out and we did not get into a multi-car collision on I-5 on the way there, and for those things we were very grateful. The first half of the day was spent on the phone haggling with different aluminum dealers about the cost of "Spanish Brown" so, whatever. I felt like one of those 'bad dads' you see at theme parks who neglect their kids and can't leave work at home (wait a minute- I was one.)

But the second half of the day? Ahhh, the second half! There's really nothing like a day at a theme park with your daughter, who came out of the gates running full bore at each height requirement measuring stick. She's at that perfect age where she is not bothered by not being able to go on half the rides, doesn't notice that the Lego sculptures would benefit from a professional-grade pressure sprayer, and yet she has an unbridled enthusiasm about the environment that makes a parent's heart swell with joy. (And at age 2 she also gets into the park for free.)

We had a great time, which was a long time coming. She'd been telling us all summer about how she wanted to "go to Legoland and ride a rollercoaster with Daddy." It's the kind of thing you just can't let go. We did ride a rollercoaster and she shrieked with delight over the first drop, which I will remember for the rest of my life. She went to bed talking about it last night, and awoke this morning picking up right where the conversation left off. And now, here I've got to run off to work again.

There is a sorry, selfish temptation for the father to check that off the list of things that had to be done -going to a theme park with your kid. That's the kind of mindset that leaves your life empty and wanting, as the kids grow a foot every time you turn around. Today she started in on the imaginary friend, who had arrived looking for someone to play with, evidently. I am sitting here and mommy is doing the laundy and the Little Ditchman, well, she's in the other room talking to "Sully" about how they're going to go to Legoland together and go on the boats and the helicopters and the rollercoaster.

"It's normal," Mrs. Ditchman explains, but I've got a sick feeling about it. Then they head off to Jazzercise and all the other unknown quantities of mommy's day and I'm off to screw a bunch of aluminum together in the sun, this last day of September. I'll turn on the radio for distraction, and then I'll get home, too tired to pick her up. I'll pick her up all the same, because I know this little one's doing the heavy lifting of my soul, and it's a daddy's lot to take it.


Monday, September 29, 2008

A proper weekend! We seem to get one only every six weeks or so this year, so it came as a welcome respite from the madness. This week: more madness. Awoke this morning to a sudden bang and a clatter, accompanied by intemperate distant thudding, the likes of which is not often heard in these parts. I got out of bed and looked out the office window into the sunrise -thunderclouds were blowing in from behind me, off the mighty Pacific twelve miles west of here, and there in the middle of the field adjacent to our suburb I saw a bright tear in the sky, striking the top of the hill, backlit by the sun. It was an odd sight. I blinked awake a bit and mumbled, "here it comes" and-


Right on top of us. Someone up there doesn't want us to go to Legoland today, I thought.

But it has since passed and there's a smattering of rain and a rainbow and all is well in the suburbs. I hear it tumbling off into the distance, the lightning raking ahead of it, and it's on its way out to Escondido, where the morning grey of Oceanside goes to die. Here comes October! I am not a quitter! I spent a good amount of time out in the garden this weekend turning and amending the soil and planting some onions, peppers, tomatoes -all those things that thrive in the Spring. Thought I'd beg the gods for another shot at it in the next few months. Hey, it's California! It's a twelve-month growing season!

Members of DawgRun headquarters came Saturday for barbeque and wine. They brought the wine -that is: 2 bottles of cabernet, a six-pack of pumpkin ale, 1 bottle of port, and a twelve dollar chunk of Manchego. There was no obligation to bring half of the local Ralph's Grocery European Dining aisle, but we appreciate it all the same. (The port and cheese will be here for the pumpkin fest, available to all who attend.) That being said, I had already opened a bottle (jug) of Spanish wine previously and had stopped by the Oceanside Ale Works for a growler of the local suburban hefeweizen, so after a day in the sun and a willful neglect to hydrate, I woke Sunday morning with a powerful headache. I begged off church and stayed home to shave the cat.

He's nineteen! He had yet another birthday last week and I went to pet him to find he had become no less than a matted geriatric fur ball that reeked of the unmentionable contents of his litter box, with a sorry all-my-nine-lives-are-pissed-about-it kind of attitude. He didn't like the shaving, but I just know he'll appreciate it in the long run. I didn't much like it either, so we did the clipfest in shifts until he angrily sunk a fang into my hand, then I gave him six hours off. If we make it to Legoland today, I may succumb to feline distemper, but at least my teeth aren't hurting as much.

Legoland! I got last week's order in late, so I got a free day today. Sort of. The phone just rang a bit ago and the plant only has a coil of the .032 gauge in the Spanish Brown -can you believe this crap!? Oh, man, that screws up everything! And I was going to take my truck in to get the "Engine Check" Light fixed so I could get it properly smogged for the DMV registration. I can't afford all this!

But well, that's life. Allow me to draw attention away from this blog now, to the DawgRun's new little addition: here. She's so cute! Welcome to the blogosphere, baby.


Friday, September 26, 2008

I barely made it through the week. That day off I had anticipated early on was just a brief delusion, wishful thinking. Now I'm behind schedule on next week's big order, which puts it in the league of everything else I've been meaning to get done before Halloween -that holiday that looms as a Spectre of Eternal Responsibility. My costume has been chosen: "DAD". Don it and the zipper breaks. The costume never comes off.

There is no Big Home Show this weekend, which is good because I'm not sure I can set up and tear down those bundles of aluminum again. It's not just me, it's that the dented things won't hold anymore. The temptation is to just scrap it and replace it, but that will cost a pretty penny. I should probably just piecemeal the thing back together for the next Show, and live with it until we're in a good place to buy a new one. Or I could call the dealers and hammer them to foot the bill, since I'm the one bringing them the business. But I divide my sales between the dealers, because they serve different options at different prices, (we're a satisfy-the-customer outfit who will design at the beckoning of your whimsy.) The dealers know this, and want ALL the business, so there's a certain reluctance from them to give up their wares for advertising and display purposes. "Then increase your product-line!" I say. In this wobbly-kneed economy? Forget it.

I think I just made an analogy for the current economic crisis. What do I know about the economy? Next to nothing. But I am a moderately-successful business owner and I know my flaws and failings as well as my strengths and successes. I'm one of these guys who thinks the economy can all be dumbed down. It's not like particle physics, where it's all theory and principle and stuff you can't see working on a molecular level (the Large Hadron Collider is down for the season, by the way. The discovery of God and ultimate destruction of the planet has been put off until next spring. Seems they're having problems with the magnets. I ask you: when you were a kid, weren't you convinced that all the mysteries of the universe lay inside the magnets? Quantum physicists overwhelmingly agree.) Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the Economy. No, the economy is all about workers and bankers and capital and the price of money. I know that they shouldn't have lent me all that money to buy this house, but I was willing to accept the risk. I've been good on it. Others weren't so smart, or so lucky. The banks probably shouldn't have done it. People probably shouldn't have taken the loans. There should have been more governmental oversight. Politicians didn't act. Some bankers pretended nothing was wrong and exploited the system. Now? Well, we're all going to have to pay. And those of us who worked harder and made sacrifices to be good on our debts are ticked off about it.

I've always thought "banking" was just "sales," and if you want to be a successful salesman and make as much money as possible, sell the most expensive thing because the commissions are higher! And what's the most expensive thing? Money. And every salesman pretends their product is worth more than it is -this makes the customer more satisfied and the salesman more money- but it's a very fine line between honesty and deceit. It is no less true with the bankers buying and selling all these loans. The funny thing is, the banks are going out of business, and everybody else will just go back to work -at least until their business needs to borrow money to expand, or their customers can't borrow money to buy their product, and then there will be less work to go around. Does this affect me, lowly aluminum patio cover installer? You bet it does. Why would someone want to borrow money to build a patio cover when that loan's gonna cost them so much. Better to wait. Save it. Now, throw in the world market and its international investors and the panicky greedy types on Wall Street and the Fed messing with the rates every other day and a certain lack of policing the system and a certain lack of consumer confidence and you have a Perfect Storm trickling down on all of us. Get out the plywood for the windows. Hang on to your hats.

Here's an interesting piece on the current solution. It distills it pretty well and dumbs it down enough for the proletariat to grasp.

Like the politicians, the Little Ditchman is obsessed with "change", too. A few weeks ago we showed her a piggy bank and tried to teach her what the coins were: pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. She still thinks five pennies is better than one quarter, but now when I come home from work, she hears me jingle my keys and shouts "change!" and demands whatever loose cash I have on hand so she can run upstairs and put it in the piggy. Seeing her joy at the reception and dance of the coins is worth whatever it costs at face value -literally every penny- and a quarter only goes in once, while five pennies go in five times and get five smiles. So five pennies is worth more, and such are the economics of family. I was saving the change for some new corals for the aquarium. She saves it because it's neat. We both get more than our money's worth when I give her every last nickel I have.

If you think the American Economy is more complex than all this, well, it is. But if you think I'm being too simplistic, then what are we all really worried about? Inflation. A drop in business. Losing the house. But let's keep some perspective here: we can afford to lose the house.

The home we take with us.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

This children's book would never be accepted by any publisher in America today. And that would have been the end of it.

It's from the first one, Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey. We all know the illicit story that begins with chimp smuggling and ends with everyone laughing about the naughty shenanigans the little beast was so curious about. The Little Ditchman picked the original up at the library last week. We sat down to read it together, and this father had raised eyebrows all the way through. When that nameless cypher, The Man with the Big Yellow Hat, (and a shotgun) shows up in the jungles of Africa to remove the monkey from his happy life in the trees and stuffs him in a sack and hauls him off to the Big City, well, I was dying to see what happened next!

The illustrations are truly wonderful. Of course, in today's world, they would never fly with a story like that. Eventually, the monkey crank calls the firemen who arrive not as civic heroes, but as an overstaffed Keystone Humane Society:

I suppose that, more or less, this is the moral of the story: Don't crank call the firemen! Otherwise, you know what will happen to you...

But George escapes! He jumps the dimwitted cel watchman and bolts out the door, up onto the roof, and absconds out of the prison grounds via the telephone wires, "quickly and quietly over the guard's head" it reads.

And then...

Why there's a man selling balloons to little girls right outside the prison wall is not answered, but anyway, having not served his full sentence and achieving no semblance of rehabilitation, the curious monkey immediately steals the balloons. The balloons, as is the custom of fairy tale physics, swiftly lift George into the air and carry him up and over the Big City, where he is finally found by the Man with the Yellow Hat. You'll be glad to know that in the end the Man goes back and pays the guard for the balloons.

Here's the happy ending:

And that's it. What a happy place! Far better than the wilds they came from, free to choke on deflated latex and strangle themselves with discarded bits of string, the animals -not being bothered with that pointless separation in cages according to continent or specie stuff- live out their happy days.

The Jewish authors, the Reys, fled Paris and escaped the Nazis in June, 1940. They had the original manuscript in their luggage, which was strapped to the bicycles they rode off on, mere hours before the tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees. They eventually made it to America, lost contact with their original French publisher, and today there are a hundred spin-off books written by child-sensitive literary analysts and painted by corporate artists, as well as the movies and PBS series (with the disclaimer about being overly-curious) and the video games and water park at Universal Studios Florida and, of course, the car seat covers.

In 1989 Margaret Rey established the Curious George Foundation to help creative children and prevent cruelty to animals.

Things change. Makes you wonder how badly we're screwing up our kids today and not even realizing it.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

See? I'm not such an intimidating, far-right-wing crazy conservative -uh, am I? (And only mildly authoritarian, probably because I answered "strongly agree" to the query about spankings being a legitimate form of discipline.) Anyway, I'm not afraid to admit it: I'm a passionate guy -and at least I'm not way up there in the corner like Hitler. Those are my results from The Political Compass. Take the test yourself and see where you land on the grid. I admit I had to think a bit about some of those questions -they don't let you off easy with an "undecided" or a "don't know". It got me all fiery pensive, however, and I thought about it all day at work, went home and took it again, and got nearly the same score -so it must be fairly accurate, as far as these things go. I find it somewhat refreshing that they added two whole quadrants to the right/left thing.

Did you know that the political terms "right" and "left" came from the seating arrangements of the French National Assembly of 1789? Fascinating. Later, heads would roll. Also, I have the key to the Bastille on my fireplace mantle!

Okay, so it's a replica. I bought it at Mt. Vernon a couple years ago. The original key to the Bastille was presented to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette, who had served under Washington in the Revolutionary War. I think it cost me twenty-five dollars and my wife rolled her eyes when I bought it. I love the thing. People come over to my house and ask me what it is. "It's the key to the Bastille!" I say. Cracks me up.

Funny thing about the keys to the Bastille: the rioters were there all day, and they demanded all the gunpowder and arms and release of the prisoners. They took the keys off the wall and paraded them through the streets, and when they finally got around to actually storming the place later that night, they found that they didn't have the keys with them, so they had to break down the doors by hand and foot. Turns out there were only seven prisoners inside, as it had been previously decided by the French governors to move the prisoners and close the place down (it cost too much to maintain.) The revolutionaries must have been disappointed that they didn't have more freed inmates to show off, but all the same they paraded them through the streets of Paris as heroes, and so fell history upon them and the storming of the Bastille was the beginning of the French Revolution. The French National Assembly then became the effective government of France, they had assigned seating, and today it's all right and left, red state and blue state, and I have the key to the Bastille on my mantle. How about that?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yesterday, I was "up with the concrete guys" as the old saying goes (?) and out the door before the family was awake, which never happens. I'm not sure why the concrete guys are up before dawn, but it has something to do with not sitting in traffic with a truckload of wet concrete, and then not pouring the stuff midday when it stiffens and cracks before it's even smoothed out. These guys get up early. There's a concrete and stone guy who lives on my street at the end of the cul-de-sac. He drives a diesel, and you can hear it rumble and chatter to life every morning just before sun-up, as he heads out to pave over the world. I waved to him yesterday as I was loading my truck (not a diesel) and he tentatively waved back, no doubt wondering why I hadn't hired him. (I could tell he knew where I was going.)

So it was off to get some posts set in some massive Escondido patio for a cover that won't be built until Thanksgiving, of all things. Meanwhile, another job was put on hold due to termites, one job was delayed because of inspectors, and another job, well, it's just making its small, daily demands of a cut here, a cut there. Re-run the electrical. All of it over a pool, no less.

That being said, I may just get a day off this week. I've still got some tooth pain, which I paid a few hundred bucks for, and the family 4Runner remains in the shop. We considered setting new appointments and trying it all over again with the Legoland trip (off-season hours are Thurs-Sun, in case you're wondering) but I'm not sure I could handle another car accident right now. I'd rather work in the garden (speaking of accidents.)

The garden. My vast suburban happy homeowner Versailles that proved to be a disappointment of Legoland proportions this past season. And here we are in Autumn, already. I've been wandering out back to see if any of the SoCal growing season could be salvaged, (you usually can) and I refuse to give up. I had a few straggler tomatoes coming in, heirloom types, and I was looking forward to plucking them for a nice plate of balsamic, basil and mozzarella, but the squirrels got there first. I went out to harvest and there was nary a sign of the fruit. I almost blamed my wife and child, but then I noticed the lettuce had been munched down to a hairy stump. And the grapes? Gone. The squirrels don't touch the jalapenos, however. Thanks, guys. Where's my BB gun?

So I was a flipping farming failure this year. It started out so strong and I had such high hopes for it all, but the soil wasn't amended properly (like that flopped attempt in '06, remember? Gawd, that was something awful!) and the drip system gave out right before a heat-wave. The lawn is near-dead, strung along on life support irrigation. Just for kicks, I plugged in my pressure gauge the other day and discovered it was down to about 40, which is like checking for a heartbeat and hearing the thing stop pumping right then and there. I reckon I got a bad regulator, so I banged on it with a hammer and cranked it up to full. We've got it up to 80 now, which seems to do the trick. No doubt the whole thing will blow when we go away some weekend, flooding the decrepit mess of dead neglected things I worked so hard to plant last Spring. Maybe I should just give up on this one. Call it a loss and make it a Halloween display. Fine: everything to the compost pile! In January we go again!

But it was a beautiful weekend, even though there was so much to be done. At one point I actually saw the wind change direction and could smell the end of summer. And It was all things PIRATES! which made for an entertaining succession of events. Taught the Little Ditchman how to wear an eyepatch and then took a break from the pirates to have a little Wizard of Oz, as there was a themed kid's party down the street. I poked my head in and represented the family, to let them know we were all still alive on the other end of the cul-de-sac, and ended up staying for beer and cake. Most notable decoration from the party: the mom had stuffed some stockings and ruby slippers and jammed them under the playhouse out back, so it looked like the house had fallen out of the sky and landed on the Wicked Witch. The kids loved it. (The Little Ditchman had no understanding of it, but she appreciated "the green castles" -i.e. The Emerald City)

Then it was back to PIRATES, arrrgh, down at the harbor where pregnant mommy was slaving away, shlepping the family wares. There was AN AUTHENTIC PIRATE BATTLE being staged in the harbor, which I went out of my way to check out. It consisted of an old ship putt-putting out into the water and then a bunch of guys dressed as pirates on the distant other side of the bay, up on the breakwater rocks, waving their swords. A hundred or so spectators lined up to watch. A cannon was fired. The end. I wish I had the highly anticipated event on video, but I was too enthralled with the whole extraordinarily unremarkable display. It was like waiting for the cars to get out of the way for a parade, and then realizing that the cars were the parade.

Oh, well. We'll get 'em next season.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Aarrrrrr... It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, savvy? Still not sure what exactly is international about it, but hey, why not? Pirates were never bound by any territorial agreements and spent most of their days in international waters outside of the common law, so I guess it makes sense. Ditchman family will be spending the weekend talking like pirates at the Oceanside Harbor Days Festival, if I can make it through today to set up the display booth. Last year's theme at the festival was "Pirates", and I find it interesting that this year they're doing all the same pirate stuff without having an actual selected theme, so I guess if something works extraordinarily, go with it, mateys!

At dinner last night I was informed that there would be a talk-like-a-pirate playgroup meeting today that I was going to miss out on, unfortunately. And then the Little Ditchman donned the pirate hat she'd made at the library, got her treasure map, and led us around the house on a hunt for buried treasure! No, really. We pretended to dig on the stairway where the treasure took the form of Little Einsteins stickers and decorations. We all had hats. Mommy was Minnie Mouse, Steve was a fireman, and I, well, I got the monkey. (That's the dad's job, you know, "Pirate Monkey".) Anyway, it was all so fun and so cute that I just had to share. Moments like that make you want to have ten kids, and then you realize: TOO MUCH GROG.

Have an awesome weekend, scallawags.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

At some point late last spring, an old photo spontaneously fell off the dining room wall. I was resting on the couch in the living room at the time, and I heard it just slide down behind a cabinet, snapping the glass on the baseboard as it hit. There was a still moment and an empty mark on the wall where it hung, begging for some kind of metaphor to reflect the times. And since it fell in a place out of sight, with no broken glass out in the open, I just left it for when I had time to do the repair and the rehanging. But there has been no time, and I've been gazing at that mark on the wall at every dinner, all season. And the metaphor grows.

Eventually, this happens:

I know.

(Here's the part where you go, "...but he has time for this?")

In my defense, I had all the tools already out and I was trying to get some woodworking done in the Little Ditchman's new room. Also, I've been cleaning out the garage one problem item at a time ever since the Big Garage Sale, and here I had my old photoboard and a big bag of corks and I thought, you know, if I just got around to making my corkboard and hanging it in the hallway upstairs, that's two more items I can get out of the garage! About an hour into it, I realized the error of my ways and knew I would be mocked accordingly, so I played defense by announcing early on to my wife that I had started a new project. I think she thought I was joking, but I was really bracing for the shock and eye-roll I was going to get later when she went out to the garage to do the laundry.

The real problem with my wine cork corkboard is that I don't drink enough wine! When we got married five or so years ago, I began to save the things. I wasn't sure why at the time, but I figured I'd come across a project. When I couldn't get the damn tacks into the oriented side board that I had used on the photowall, I began to look into some cork sheeting and discovered how rocking expensive the stuff is, so I figured it would be a nice display of all the wine we've enjoyed over the years (that is, uh, hidden behind the treasured family photos, of course.) I kept tossing the used corks into a grocery bag in the garage and, mind you, I was diligent about it. When the grocery bag was near full and the thing started to get heavy, (they're corks!) it was time. But look! Not enough corks! (And I refuse to buy "new" ones from World Market or Michael's or some such cheat zone.)

So... dammit. For the information of counsel, and in an effort to distract, there are over five hundred corks on the board currently. That's roughly two bottles of wine per week since we got married -so, yes, that's about right. The board is only halfway done. I need another 500 corks. Cost of the average bottle of wine (in this house): $11. That's $5500.00! So when this board is done, it will be worth over $10,000. Make me an offer on my half-finished corkboard and I may be willing to sell it to you for a couple grand (cheap!)

Pathetic? There are more pathetic things in my life, I assure you. I found myself overwhelmed last weekend. We were in the midst of a Home Show and the kid was taking a nap and I had 2 hours to get something done, but she was sleeping in the room that needed to be painted -so that was out- and all the parts I needed for home repair I hadn't purchased yet, and here I couldn't leave the house... But I was at home for once, surrounded by dead plants on the landscape and a garage steeped high in old aluminum. I felt burdened with unanswered emails, unreturned phone calls, unwashed laundry, a sink full of dishes, no plans for dinner -so I started gluing corks. There was no way I could screw it up! (Except that I didn't have enough corks.)

When I get loaded high with the demands of life, hard-pressed on all sides, knees shaky under the weight of serious responsibility, I do something totally distracting and creative. I go in a different direction. I exercise that tiny part of my brain that embraces "newness" and I consider it a godly act. It helps me slough off all that old, boring familiar sameness that I moil through from day to day (oh, the drudgery.) I may not finish the project right away, but I'll get back to it all and finish it some day, Mrs. Ditchman will vouch for me on that one, and anyway it's better than an empty, lifeless house, with nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing bold, and nothing new. To me, well, that wouldn't be living at all. Creativity is God's most defining trait. In the beginning, God created... the Bible begins. It was breathed into all of us way back when and if we don't breathe deep, we enter into a sort of spiritual suffocation that we spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend.

I'm not saying we all have to be Rembrandt. And if you don't think making wine-cork-photo-boards is creative, well, you don't know how I meticulously arranged the corks!

In the meantime, send me your corks. If you don't have any, well, I need about $5000 worth of wine. (Preferred.)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Where was I yesterday? Working. (I don't blog for a living unfortunately.) If I don't post, I'm working, so don't worry about sending me concerned emails. We're fine here! We're just working. We have dumb jobs like everyone else, and sometimes we get busy.

Same today, except that the world is probably coming to an end. Yes, I know the Large Hadron Collider was switched on and we're all still here, but there's still another shot at Doomsday. Check it.

Besides this type of speculation, an unusual number of important events will occur beginning in 2012. NASA is predicting the next Solar Maximum will arrive in 2012 and will be the strongest in 50 years. At the same time, the sun will align with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in 26,000 years, on the exact date of the end of the Mayan calendar, Dec. 21, 2012. This will also be the year when the United States and the United Nations elect a new president and a new secretary general, considered by some to be the two most powerful "thrones" on earth, and the seat from which prophecy experts say the Antichrist will rule or receive power...

Based on his research into the Jewish Feasts, Pastor Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries believes this time frame between 2012-2015 could be prophetic and may signal the return of Christ. He says for people who believe in a "pre-tribulation rapture," this would make the year 2008 very important. For those who believe in a mid-tribulation rapture, 2012 may mark their departure. And on his website, he adds "if you're prewrath, then 2014 might be interesting [and] if you're a posttribber, 2015 is the date to watch for."

Something tells me these people will always have a job. I also have a feeling that the antichrist will come sometime after all of the doomsayers have just given up and gone home. So take it from me, when you stop seeing articles like this, we may be in for some real trouble.

As for today, we're fine. Back to work.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Via: The Drawn Cutlass

It's mesmerizing. It's erie. Leave it on. Watch the whole thing. You have to see the part where the technician tries to kick it over and it rights itself. And then when it slips on the ice, you would swear thar be devils inside! Right now they're working on one that gets 50 mpg and goes 40 mph! And, of course, deep inside the Pentagon there's a guy whose job it is to do some tests and strap machine guns to an army of a thousand of those things. Just picture it! Wow. The sight of that alone would strike fear into the enemy. Hopefully there's someone out there teaching it to climb a ladder and use a hammer. Put these robo-donkeys to work! (Could have used one last night tearing down the booth at the Home Show.)

Anyway, I applaud this use of tax dollars. It's a DARPA project and part of DARPA's mission statement is "to create technological surprise for our enemies." Seems like they're on the right track here.

Something tells me that we'll be seeing a lot more of this stuff before we die. Maybe. Depending on how they improve the power source. Right now it sounds like the thing is being run by a leaf-blower engine, and I for one couldn't stand the noise of those things vacuuming the living room in every house on my block. But in twenty or thirty years? Who knows. One of them will probably carry my casket to the grave.

Boston Dynamics needs a better PR person, though. Come on, put some funky music to that galloping beat!


Friday, September 12, 2008


It's like a buzzing, clattering alarm going off when we have a Home Show to do. There's a million things that have to happen, and you have to do it all switching roles. Like a parlor game.

Actually, it's the role-switching that's the easy part. Moving the car seat is kind of a pain, but you get used to it. Anyway, today is a weird one because I have actual work to do and Mrs. Ditchman has actual work to do and the sitter is full. FULL! (Which is funny because she already has four kids of her own.) So it's bring your child to work with you day which is fun for her for about a minute, and fun for you -not.

So no big blog today. I want you to have a terrific weekend. If you find yourself not having one, fake it. You'll be glad you did and no one else will have to suffer through your misery.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

In October of 1997 I was in New York. Went over to Brooklyn one day and snapped this picture. (Didn't everyone?) It was a pretty autumn day, and there was that magnificent accomplishment of man, Manhattan, shimmering aside the Hudson. If you had been a stranger from the future and you had walked up to me as I was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and said something like, "You know... in less than four years those towers over there and several of the surrounding buildings will be destroyed in a terrorist attack the likes of which history has never seen. Thousands will die." I suppose I would have raised my eyebrows and thought, Uh oh, one of those. Well, we all know it happened.

After 9/11 if you had said there wasn't going to be a single terrorist attack on American soil in the next seven years I probably would have thought you were equally daft. Then again, if you had said anything about my life that was going to happen in the future, I would have thought you were daft -so it just goes to show that you never know how hard you're going to get rear-ended tomorrow. Anyway, it's not for a lack of trying on the terrorists' part. Here's a list.

And I'm not daft enough to walk up to you at the Queen Mary and tell you that 30,000 will die when the Long Beach skyline is leveled in eight years from a simple atomic bomb smuggled over in a freighter from North Korea via some obscure Southeast Asian Shipping Company, but I am saying it could happen. A lot of people out there want it to happen. And worse.

This person is more qualified to say what I was going to: Debra Burlingame, the sister of Capt. Charles F. (Chic) Burlingame 3rd, pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. The whole article is here.

There is a disturbing phenomenon creeping into the public debate about all things 9/11. Increasingly, Sept. 11 is compared to hurricanes, bridge collapses and other mechanical disasters or criminal acts that result in loss of life, with "body count" being the primary factor that keeps it in the top spot of "worst in the nation's history."
Misremembering is as dangerous as forgetting. If we must know one thing, it is that the Sept. 11 attacks were neither a natural disaster, nor the unfortunate result of human error. 9/11 wasn't the catastrophic equivalent of a 3,000-car pileup.

The attacks were not a random act of violence or insanity. They were a deliberate and brutal act of war committed by religious fanatics engaged in Islamic jihad against the United States, all non-Muslim people and any Muslim who wishes to live in a secular society. Worse, the people who perpetrated the attacks have explicitly told us that they are not done.

Sept. 11 is a date that comes and goes once a year, but "9/11" is with us every day. The body count keeps rising - Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid, Beslan, London, Amman.

We now clearly know that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was part of the holy war against America. When we previously dismissed this as a random attack by crazy men and declared ourselves lucky that "only six lives were lost," we effectively disarmed ourselves. Eight years later, six became 3,000. While the comparison to other "tragedies" may help us cope with what has befallen us, we must resist being glib and intellectually careless.

Our fellow human beings were not "lost" in 1993 or on 9/11. They were torn to pieces. We must not give the enemy any quarter. We must confront the reality of their acts.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I mentioned yesterday that I was "trying to squeeze a bit more summer out" and that that was about all there was for the year, but I neglected to mention how we had made plans to go to Legoland this week! My wife has an annual pass and the Little Ditchman, I think, gets in free until she's three, so they go there with playgroup friends from time to time and I have always been jealous. I remember when the first Legoland opened in Denmark when I was a kid, and I dreamed of going. I had read about it in World magazine, which was National Geographic for kids, and that was the first I'd ever heard of this magical place called "Denmark". Even today, when I hear about Denmark, I picture lego spires and towering cathedrals and whole towns made from the plastic bricks and blocks. Now it turns out that I live ten minutes from Legoland and my daughter loves the things! What a life!

So we'd been making plans to go to Legoland because the kid just loves it, and I finally got a day where I could ditch everything and join them but then I remembered: dental appointment. The nice lady behind the counter had written it on a little card for me and I uncovered it while cleaning my desk the other day. Remember those two "tiny" cavities I had? Figured I'd get them filled while the insurance was still good. "Two tiny cavities," was how the doctor had actually described them, so we decided to load the family in the car and they would wait in the lobby while I had the work done.

Same good doctor, same efficient business, same off-handed quips. They set me down in the chair, put the apron on, shined the light in my eyes and handed me a clipboard with the bill on it. I could barely make it out... $320! The doctor said "most of that is for the hair transplant," which actually made me laugh. Anyway, it was a "sign here, please" situation as they hovered over me with the tools ready. I told them I thought I was just getting a couple tiny cavities filled and doesn't my insurance cover this and hey, ow! Things were suddenly really moving in there. I love how they bring the Novocaine syringe up from behind your head, out of your eye-line, and then they sink it in to the bone. Twice. ("We charge by the gallon on that stuff," he cracked.) So, guess what? One of those "tiny cavities" wasn't so tiny. The doctor set up a bunch of mirrors again and showed me -and it was an ugly sight. So I said go for it and they kept drilling. When I stumbled out into the waiting room an hour later, Mrs. Ditchman asked what all the drilling was about and the doctor came out and explained it to her. And when she saw the bill, and the gaping cavity it had suddenly made in our checking account, well, we all could have used another gallon of Novocaine.

We got in the car. It was about naptime. The Little Ditchman was beginning to get a little surly and I contemplated how much fun it was going to be at Legoland with a numb mouth and a napless child and I was thinking about the work I should be at home doing and how much debt we have and how in the world are we ever going to pay it off and there's a baby on the way and Christmas is coming and that's when we got in an accident.

Rear-ended. Left-hand turn lane at a signal getting ready to get on the freeway to go to Legoland. We were just sitting there quietly, a few cars back from the intersection, when out of nowhere -CRRUNCHH! I spun around and saw a car way too close behind us. The Little Ditchman had that I'm-frightened-and-in-about-two-seconds-I'm-gonna-cry-look and my wife's heart skipped a beat. We were fine. We were all fine. I remained calm. I got out to see if the other driver was okay and found a middle-aged woman edging slowly toward a panic state. She said she had no idea what happened, that this had never happened before. I suggested that we move off the road, and as I picked up her license plate off the asphalt, I noticed it was a handicap placard. I handed it to Mrs. Ditchman, "Here. Hold this." I turned to our little girl, "Are you okay?" "Yeah," she whimpered confusedly.

The requisite phone calls were made. A Sheriff pulled up. A few more community service officers pulled up. Again, everyone was fine. Our beat-up ten-year-old 4Runner now just looked more of the same and I thought, Couldn't she have just hit it a little harder and bent the frame a little more? Everyone seemed bothered (and who could blame them?) so I started to make jokes. I turned to my wife, "When we get out of the car, I'll complain about my neck and you fall to your knees and pretend you're going into pre-term labor." The lady who hit us was very apologetic. Her handicap was a mangled hand, which looked congenital, and I'm not sure I would have noticed except that she wanted to shake my hand and thank me repeatedly, which had an awkwardness to it. I caught that her car had a special steering wheel, but steering had nothing to do with the accident. We were just sitting there and she had accelerated into us, for no good reason. She kept thanking me. "You're welcome!" I said when we left. Not sure for what. I said it because it made me laugh.

I took pity on her. I've rear-ended someone before and I know that it's always your fault when you hit a twenty-foot long, two-ton automobile directly in your path. (How could you miss it?) You feel pretty dumb when it happens, and my reaction to the whole thing was to shrug and shake my head. Call the insurance company. Move on with life.

Is there a moral to the story? Nope. Is there some kind of final tag line I can append at the end here that wraps it all together and makes you ponder wistfully everyday events and their sum importance in our lives? I could say how thankful I am that we're all okay, that the peace of mind that having insurance brings is worth every penny. That I'm glad I'm not one of those people who lashes out in anger and raises his fists to blame God when something insensibly bad happens, (at least, not anymore.) The rear-end of our car was properly mangled. Not so bad that it looked awful on the street, but certainly bad enough that when you inspected it closely you saw that it was going to cost a pretty penny. The other driver's car? Well, the license plate came off.

We finally made it to Legoland and found that it was closed for the off-season. We were all disappointed. The Little Ditchman cried herself to sleep on the way home. The Novocaine had worn off and my tooth hurt. Funny, it didn't hurt before I gave the doctor $320. My wife and I actually laughed at what a bummer of a day it was, and somehow it made everything just perfect.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Well, now this is interesting. I think what interests me most about it is that Bob Woodward, the man who brought down Nixon, is now willingly being used as a military tool. Plausible! The device is genius, of course, and I bet it, or something like it, exists. Unfortunately, it will never fully work because of what I call the "squirrels in the garden" problem. The squirrels are eating my tomatoes! They sneak out there when I'm not looking and chow down on the grapes and such -I've seen them scamper away when I open the sliding door. The DistantStar could easily take them out, except that the squirrels don't use satellite phones to communicate. I guess what I'm saying is, Osama bin Laden is a squirrel in the garden.

ANYWAY, it was a swell weekend and I think I got a lot done around here, though if I look around it all looks like it did on Friday. Hm. Saturday was our big once-yearly garage sale which achieved a modest amount of success: over two-hundred dollars was raised! There was much discussion about how the family should spend the $200 and I believe we decided to just put it in the Little Ditchman's college account, which would bring the total up to about $220, (going to USC she is not.) I spent the rest of the day putting the old aquarium back together and on Sunday I went out for tank supplies and I spent about $100. Oh well. Time to start banking on that full-scholarship tuition to Scripps for an oceanography degree, little one.

Garage Sales are hilarious to me. Another one of those grand old American suburban traditions. You pile all your junk in the yard and hope someone comes by to offer you money for it. In my experience, you've got to get up early for these things. Gotta get out those directional signs at sunup, and the stuff should be on the lawn when you leave the house because people will make it to your place before all the signs are even in place (not kidding) so you have to double-team it with the wife. Also, the earlier you get out there, the better placement you get on the poles -you'll be vying for sign space with the other garage sales.

And then everyone tumbles in, most of them Mexican in my neighborhood. You get people who drive by and just look from the car and then you get people who walk up and fondle every last knickknack, asking the prices as they go. You also get a sad set of people who look like they're just out for the social occasion. Talkers. People could be shoplifting your stuff on the other side of the driveway whilst some old lady is giving you her personal history of small wicker basket ownership. And there are garage sale shoplifters. These heathen, these lowest of the low, stealing junk that costs nickels. Look, just come back later this afternoon! It will all still be here in the trash can on the curb!

Which is a funny thing. Everything out there is trash to me, is my rule. So I sell it for quarters. Sometimes people haggle me down! But at the end of the day, it all just stays out there for the garbage man or is plopped in a bag for the Veterans Assistance League. Just come back later for it! That is, if you want to chance it. The next guy may offer me fifty cents.

One thing that didn't sell: VHS tapes. We have a bunch of movies on VHS -good ones too, you know, like Austin Powers and The Godfather and Disney's Aladdin- but we couldn't move them. And you should have seen my wife trying to sell them: "No, it's a good movie!" So VHS is officially dead. If you can't sell them at a garage sale for a quarter a piece, they're dead. (Actually we did sell An Officer And A Gentleman so there's still a market for an aged Richard Gere flick.)

Ditchman Family Garage Sale ended at 11AM. They never make it past noon. Got caught up with all the neighbors and got a bunch of crap cleared out of the house. Napped away the rest of the afternoon and had a beer in the sun with the tortoises -tried to squeeze a little bit more summer out. I believe that's about all I'm gonna get this year.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Well, of course I meant to blog today, but I got all caught up with work and emails and address book updating. And by "caught up with" I mean "sucked into" and not "maintained and preserved the existing state of things." Unfortunately.

I sent a lot of emails though. If you were lucky enough to get one, consider it a Personal Blog. (Some were luckier than others.)


Friday, September 5, 2008

These are the kinds of stories you see in the paper or on the local news from time to time and you think, "Oh, how nice." And your wife enters and says, "What honey?" and you say, "Oh, there was just a news item about this poor little girl who was born with Spina Bifida and all her friends and family got together and worked on her house and stuff. It was lovely." And then you change the channel over to America's Got Talent or America's Biggest Loser or something.

But... to actually be a part of it! It's nothing like on the news, and it's nothing like in the paper. Nothing like it. It's life and it's real and it grabs you by the ribs and throttles you till you choke up breakfast. Don't take life for granted, it says. And remember to say I Love You and drive safe and be nice and spread good cheer and don't let anyone shame themselves by mocking another who suffers and don't shame yourself by not doing anything about it when they do.

And don't be petty.

And stop wasting your precious little time.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

The big move -it happened last night. Well, not THE BIG MOVE, which is months from now, but a pretty big move for the Little Ditchman, who stepped it up into a full-size bed last night in the "new" bedroom. Out of the crib and into the fire. We send our kids out into the Big World and wonder if they'll be okay. Or if they'll ever come back.

We had been talking it up for weeks, nay, months, and took her out to see all the beds at some soulless furniture store. Our little Ditchman, of course, picked the one we had had our eyes on and climbed right up on top of it, The Little Queen of Everything. She gave it a few test jumps, and it seemed bouncy enough. We filled out all the paperwork and lo! it was delivered on Tuesday. "I like my new bed!" she exclaimed.

So last night after bath time we asked her if she wanted to sleep in her baby crib or her Big Girl Bed. She was standoffish at first and we didn't push her on it, but at one point she just came around and asked about it so we walked her in. This came not without some formal, but tender, diplomacy, sensitive preliminary negotiations, and certain back-room preconditions. We moved some of her clothes in there, and a bunch of her favorite toys had been moved weeks earlier. The weight of heady symbolism was advanced when, one by one, I removed the letters of her name off the wall over the crib and carried them to the New World like it was her majesty's flag. She stood there as I did this the other day, watching me as I wiped the dust off of them. I left the tiny mantle hanging emptily above the crib to drive home the point, and I wouldn't be surprised if, last night after storytime, she looked over at the crib and saw her name missing and felt like she was just in the wrong room. (Sorry kid, you are.)

She took to it like a champ -certainly better than her parents did. Downstairs in the kitchen, Mommy and I shared a semi-sad moment: "Oh, our little girl is getting so big" and so forth. We wondered if she'd ever take a nap again -why would she stay in a bed that didn't cage her in? And: what if she rolls off it in the middle of the night? And: what happens when she wakes in the morning? Is she just going to go downstairs, plop on the couch and turn on the tele? All on her own? (Well then, teach her how to work the coffee-maker!)

The bed is something of a sacred place, and from time to time you graduate to a new one. It's the place where it all starts and the place where you leave it all behind. Shakespeare knew this when he famously named his wife in his will, leaving her his "second-best bed". Much has been made of this. Most literary historians think that this note in the will reflects a certain enmity between the Shakespeares, but in Olden Tymes the best bed in the house was reserved for guests, so this would have been Will and Anne's marital bed. Also, back then the bed was often the most expensive thing in the house, rivaling the house itself in worth, so it was no thoughtless gesture. But I'm a sentimentalist, and I know that the best bed in the house is the mother's breast, and when the children pull away from that first, best bed, it's a tearful thing.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I slept relatively soundly last night, but the Little Ditchman did not. Woke up crying at 4:30 and my wife rolled out and handled it. I have know idea what she did or what was going on, but this morning there was no mention of it. Just a happy little clan sitting on the couch watching the Little Einsteins. I had some coffee. Then we played with the Legos.

I hate the thought that my two-year-old could have things in her head that trouble her enough to wake her from sleep. From where do these things come, these dark thoughts and selfish visions that leave her lonely and afraid at night's middle? Somehow they return to their dark place -our minds have some ability to forget them- so we can live in the sun without fear of that unknown.

I dreamt I killed a whale the other night. It was a fearsome thing, but most disturbing was the round of protest I received from all who knew me. They were outraged I had done such an awful thing to such an awesome creature. The authorities were on their way, and I felt the need to hide the carcass. Hide a dead whale? I woke myself. It was the only escape.

May our daily deeds and doings be the opposite of those that are done by the strange, small demons who come overnight. May we have insight and honor, and the ability to articulate hope in spite of what the world presents to us.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and the questions of the previous day have you perplexed enough that you can't get back to sleep. You just lay there in the dark staring at the midnight shadows on the ceiling, wondering how to make sense of it all. Last night it was three questions in particular, and this morning we will explore the questions that kept me up all night and we'll seek some answers from the Internet so we can freaking move on with our day.

1) How do they name these damn hurricanes, anyway?

I had thought that the World Meteorological Organization had alternated the male and female names every year and, as a result, I had misinformed someone the other day. When I saw on the news that the next hurricane was going to be named "Hanna" and that the last one was named "Gustav" I went, "Oh dammit," and it kept me up all night.

So, for the record, before 1979 they were all women's names, but after 1979 male and female names were included in the lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The name lists, which are agreed upon at lively international meetings of the World Meteorological Organization where the weathermen submit the names of their ex-girlfriends, have a French, Spanish, Dutch, and English flavor because hurricanes affect several nations and are tracked by the public and weather services of many countries. Women's and men's names are alternated on every storm and the list is alphabetical so you can get some idea of when in the season it blew in.

The Tropical Prediction Center in Miami keeps a constant watch on oceanic storm-breeding grounds. Once a system with counterclockwise circulation and wind speeds of 39 mph or greater is identified, the Center gives the tropical storm a name from the list for the current year. The letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included because of the scarcity of names beginning with those letters. Names associated with storms that have caused significant death and/or damage are usually retired from the list, and in 2005 there were so many storms that they ran out of names and just started using Greek letters (Alpha, Beta, etc.)

Moving right along...

2) So did the latest Indiana Jones movie take place in Area 51 or Roswell, or both, even though they're a thousand miles apart?

"Roswell" is known for the UFO incident that allegedly happened in New Mexico in 1947 in which aliens crash landed outside of town and the debris and bodies were recovered by the U.S. military. "Area 51" is the remote air force base in southern Nevada where UFOs are sighted all the time. In the latest Indiana Jones movie, Indy is kidnapped and taken somewhere to recover some alien skull thing and then there's a big chase scene and a nuclear test, all in the first twenty minutes of the flick. Answer? It takes place at Area 51 in Nevada:

A sign in the background of one scene even reads "Hangar 51" to add more mystery. Then they recover the crate (from the fabled Well of Crates warehouse) which is stamped:

Now, the nuclear bomb was developed and first tested in New Mexico, but later the testing was moved to Nevada. To make matters all the more confusing, Spielberg and Lucas filmed the thing in New Mexico. I've been to both places and in the movie -with all that red dirt- it is clearly not Nevada, hence my confusion. Kept me up last night.


3) When the physicists turn on the LHC next month, is it going to create a tiny black hole that will suck in and destroy the earth and end life as we know it?

If you don't know, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is:
[from the Wikipedia]

...the world's largest particle accelerator complex, intended to collide opposing beams of 7 TeV protons. Its main purpose is to explore the validity and limitations of the Standard Model, the current theoretical picture for particle physics. The LHC was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and lies under the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is the world's largest and the highest-energy particle accelerator. It is funded and built in collaboration with over eight thousand physicists from over eighty-five countries as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories. The idea of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), began in the early 1980s. The first approval of the project by the CERN Council occurred in December 1994 and the first civil engineering construction work began in April 1998. The collider is currently undergoing commissioning while being cooled down to its final operating temperature of approximately 1.9 K (−271.25 °C). Initial particle beam injections were successfully carried out on August 11th, 2008, and the first attempt to circulate a beam through the entire LHC is scheduled for September 10th, 2008, and the first high-energy collisions are planned to take place after the LHC is officially unveiled, on October 21st, 2008. When activated, it is theorized that the collider will produce the elusive Higgs boson, the observation of which could confirm the predictions and "missing links" in the Standard Model of physics and could explain how other elementary particles acquire properties such as mass. The verification of the existence of the Higgs boson would be a significant step in the search for a Grand Unified Theory, which seeks to unify three of the four known fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force, leaving out only gravity. The Higgs boson may also help to explain why gravitation is so weak compared to the other three forces. In addition to the Higgs boson, other theorized novel particles that might be produced, and for which searches are planned, include strangelets, micro black holes, magnetic monopoles and supersymmetric particles...

If that was too much for you, then you might want to watch this, which is like Schoolhouse Rock for particle physics:

So I ask you: is it worth risking the known universe to uncover the Higgs boson? Anyway, there are a few scientists who are concerned enough to sue. Fret not. Discover Magazine says "No, the LHC won't destroy the earth." People still fretted, so the nice researchers at CERN did a full-on revised safety assessment and then Discover Magazine concluded that the "LHC still will not destroy the earth." So that's a relief.

As far as I can tell, that theoretical tiny black hole has already been created and its sucked in everyone's tax dollars. The fact that a few physicists convinced eighty-five nations to give billions of dollars to an experiment that will produce results that only, like, fifty people in the world will ever understand is more a testament to the Arts of Persuasion than it is to science, but hey, Dog bless them for it! The whole thing could be a hoax, you know, so we'll be safe. (But what did they do with all that cash?)

Hold on, though: sometime in the next decade they're going to upgrade the Large Hadron Collider to something they wistfully call the Super Large Hadron Collider (SLHC) -so there's still a chance the universe will collapse on itself near the French border. And if that doesn't do it? Something creatively named the Very Large Hadron Collider (VLHC) is in the works for a couple hundred billion more dollars, but you can rest easy because that's decades away.

Interestingly, when they lit up the first atomic bomb there were a few scientists who claimed that the entire atmosphere would catch fire and incinerate the earth. I don't remember that happening. Also, Indiana Jones is only a movie and hurricanes don't make it as far north as Oceanside.

Now, go back to sleep.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day, celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer.